Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven. –Matthew 5:11-12a
In his book, A Hidden Wholeness, Parker Palmer writes, “The deeper our faith, the more doubt we must endure; the deeper our hope, the more prone we are to despair; the deeper our love, the more pain its loss will bring.” He follows this comment by saying, “If we refuse to hold them in hopes of living without doubt, despair and pain, we also find ourselves living without faith, hope, and love.” Palmer makes it sound as if we are damned if we do, and damned if we don’t.
I believe I have seen the truth of Palmer’s words in my life. The person with the strongest faith that I have known was my Grandma Hildenbrand. Her mother died young, leaving my grandmother to raise her 4 younger siblings. Two of her own children died as young adults. She lived through two world wars and the Great Depression, and worked sun up to sundown as a farm girl, and then a farm wife. Grandma had a harder life than anyone I know, and she also had the strongest faith. I never knew her to waiver in her faith, including as her health steadily deteriorated in her final months on earth. She remained optimistic, cheerful, and feeling blessed to the end. When I was a child, there were times when Grandma’s faith seemed to get in the way. We could watch whatever was on television – any of the 3 channels – unless Billy Graham was preaching, in which case we would be watching Billy Graham. Church attendance on Sunday mornings was mandatory, as were prayers of thanksgiving before every meal. Grandma believed God’s plan was perfect and that all things would work together for good – no matter how bad things got.
In his Sermon on the Mount, recorded in the 5th chapter of Matthew, Jesus proclaims a number of enigmas. Endurance through pain and perseverance through difficulty will be rewarded, if not in this life then in the next. In the context of our live-for-the-moment world, maxims of the faith often seem foolish. Wise sages such as Jesus, Parker Palmer, and Grandma Hildenbrand talk about this life as if there is much that we cannot see or understand, as well as more beyond what we recognize as this life. Their faith is not rooted in what can be seen — indeed, that does not require faith at all. Palmer’s point is that just because we risk experiencing pain when we love deeply is no reason not to love deeply – or to believe strongly, or to hope defiantly. Like Grandma Hildenbrand, when life knocks us down we are to get back up, dust ourselves off, and keep moving forward with confident certainty that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
Come home to church this Sunday. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great!